Sat, 25 Jun 2022

Veteran eyeing record for most NFL seasons played by a tight endWes Hodkiewicz

GREEN BAY - Sitting in his locker, on the eve of his 17th NFL season, Marcedes Lewis appreciates the unique position he's in.

Following Sam Koch's retirement last month, the Packers' 38-year-old tight end is now the last active player who remains from the 255 who were selected in 2006 NFL Draft.

When Lewis was drafted in the first round by Jacksonville, his goal was to play 10 seasons. Back then, Lewis figured he'd be burnt out, physically and/or mentally, but that never happened.

For starters, Lewis has stayed healthy. He's played in 234 career regular-season games (tied for 99th all-time) and has yet to undergo a major surgery in 29 years of football at any level.

Only after 12 years with the Jaguars and four more with Green Bay did Lewis start to look at where his longevity fit among NFL tight ends.

It turns out when the Packers open the 2022 regular season in Minnesota, Lewis will become just the third tight end in league history to play 17 seasons, tying Pro Football Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez and Jason Witten.

"When you're in Year 17 sometimes I wake up like, 'Damn, I'm still doing this,'" Lewis said. "Obviously, a little longer in the tooth but I love what I do."

Lewis has reinvented himself to stand the test of time. While his receiving prowess earned him a trip to the Pro Bowl in 2010, his blocking, durability and leadership are what have kept him in the league for 16 years.

The hiring of Matt LaFleur as head coach also has given a jolt to Lewis' career. The need for a traditional "Y" tight end in LaFleur's scheme has suited Lewis' skillset perfectly.

With fewer and fewer inline tight ends coming out of college, the Packers have counted on Lewis to handle a lot of the dirty work inside. When the opportunity has presented itself to contribute to the passing game, Lewis has answered the bell, with his 23 catches for 214 yards last year representing new career highs for him with the Packers.

Lewis also has served as a mentor to blossoming tight end Robert Tonyan, with whom Lewis has played all four seasons in Green Bay, and a young room filled with potential.

As the Packers welcome a new tight ends coach in John Dunn, having Lewis back has been a big boost for the offense.

"'Cedes is as good as it gets, and just a guy that has been able to play as long as he has is something special," LaFleur said. "I'm sure there's going to be some great learning and growth for both of those guys together and that room as a whole."

The 2021 season triggers some bittersweet memories for Lewis, who spent the early part of the offseason lamenting his fumble during the first quarter of January's NFC Divisional playoff game against San Francisco.

Admittedly, it was a good play by All-Pro linebacker Fred Warner, who timed his punch-out perfectly as Lewis turned up field. However, Lewis also acknowledges the turnover occurred at a time when the offense was driving, and momentum was fully in the Packers' court.

Lewis can count on less than two hands how many plays he'd like back in his entire NFL career. That's certainly one of them.

"It's something that for at least a month and a half, I had nightmares about," Lewis said. "But I'm able to confront the truth and look in the mirror every day because I know I never leave anything out on the field. I always give what I got."

Lewis said he watched the play once, processed it and turned his attention to Year 17. The veteran tight end trusts his preparation and training, and also has played long enough to know those things can happen in the NFL.

Fully committed to another season, Lewis followed his usual offseason training regimen in California, which is heavily steeped in mixed martial arts. After heading home following minicamp, Lewis planned to ramp up his running and cardio before returning next month for his 17th NFL training camp.

Having blown past his original 10-year goal, Lewis said he feels like he's "in another career" and that his fifth season in Green Bay reminds him a lot of playing out his five-year rookie deal in Jacksonville.

So, how long does Lewis want to keep playing? Well, there's still two carrots out there for the veteran workhorse - the Super Bowl ring that's eluded him, and the record for most NFL seasons played by a tight end he's quickly gaining ground on.

"This year, I'll tie the record," Lewis said. "It would be great to break it and then I would consider, 'OK, I've done that.' Eighteen is kind of bizarre, especially at the tight end position."

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